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Home > National Interest vs People’s Interest : A space for social movements > India: Thwarting Social Unrest in the Name of Security - Chhatisgarh (...)

India: Thwarting Social Unrest in the Name of Security - Chhatisgarh administration, industry and the security agencies

by Jawed Naqvi, 8 June 2009

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Is a prosperous India spawning a street grammar of bias?

by Jawed Naqvi

Monday, 08 Jun, 2009

That economic prowess spawns supremacist ideologies is a lesson best learnt from 19th century colonialism in the Afro-Asian region and in Europe’s conquest of the Americas. The Chinese on their part were forever prone to believing that non-yellow races were barbarian. Their recent economic prosperity has not brought any perceptible shift in that belief. Has India’s chosen neo-liberal economic model set it on a road to deepening social rifts with a matching new grammar of bias?

In the Dantewada district, in India’s heartland state of Chhatisgarh, the picturesque beauty of the Indrawati River is smeared with an alien language of prejudice. The northern banks of the river have come to be called Pakistan, not that they are home to Muslims but because they shelter suspected Maoist guerrillas, known otherwise as Naxalites. Whatever other religion they may profess, if they ever had one, Naxalites are usually not Muslim.

There could be a few possible explanations for why or how the idiom of hate came to be planted in a region that is safely couched in a remote, inaccessibly dense forests, that too thousands of miles from any foreign border, by land or sea. It is probable that some paramilitary men who carried with them the notion of the “enemy within” when they migrated from their punishing duty in Kashmir brought the idiom to the meandering banks of Indrawati.

Which of course would raise a set of parallel questions? It may be asked, for example, why the paramilitary men who seemed to be able to crush (though not tame) with relative ease a foreign-backed movement against Indian rule found it difficult to curb the onslaught of another set of rebels, who did not have the wherewithal that links with a foreign government bring. Is there a different measure of force that is allowed for each case depending on the native or foreign quotient of the enterprise?

Let us assume for a moment that the reference to Pakistan that the security forces use (and which seems to have found a grudging acceptance among a section of the local people they claim to protect) was not planted by them. Let us grant that the virus is just as likely to have been injected into the everyday grammar of the unsuspecting tribespeople by Hindutva ideologues that rule Chhatisgarh. How would that help those that seek to foment the implied hatred? The simple answer would be that it helps their mentors – big Indian corporations and their multinational allies.

Communalism has proved to be a most used and effective weapon in the state’s quiver to help dissipate, even pre-empt, any threat of economically driven unrest. Such threats were initially understood to emanate from the industrial workforce in urban hubs. Be it the Shiv Sena in Mumbai or the BJP in Gujarat, they made excellent partners with Indian business clubs to thwart industrial bargaining by diving the workers into parochial rivals. However, the same antidote to workers’ solidarity has found new use to dissipate rural strife.

Salwa Judum or “Purification Hunt” was begun in Chhatisgarh on the model of the Ikhwan-uI-Muslimoon, Kashmir’s notorious vigilante militia that were propped up by the state. In June 2005, a section of the tribal elite, led by Congress Party leader Mahendra Karma, who else, — Congress innovates, the BJP imitates — started organising the Judum to eliminate Maoist influence from several villages. The state government immediately threw its forces behind this effort to pit tribals against each other, arming tribal youth as Special Police Officers to conduct raids on villages that had been identified as “Maoist-affected”. During these raids, villagers were ordered to leave their homes, which were burned, and make long forced marches to dozens of ‘resettlement’ camps.

The Frontline magazine made the following starling connection. “In an instance of truly Orwellian coincidence, the Memorandum of Understanding for the Tata steel plant was signed on June 4, 2005, two days after the formal launch of the controversial Salwa Judum programme in the Bastar and Dantewada districts, and marked, in the eyes of many, the point of coalescence of the administration, industry and the security agencies. The State government also signed a MoU with the Essar group the same day.”

Meanwhile, the Tata proposal had kicked off a controversy in Raipur, the state capital, with the issue being raised in the assembly too. Soon after the deal was signed, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Chhatisgarh government refused to share the details, claiming that disclosure was specifically prohibited by a clause in the MoU.

It refused to give copies of the MoU to members of the opposition in the house. The MP for the constituency encompassing Lohandiguda – the area earmarked for the project – went on record stating that he had no detailed information about the project.

Copies of the MoU were leaked over a period of months and by the time the documents became easily available a full-scale protest was under way in the 10 villages earmarked for the project. While Europe became prosperous by plundering distant lands, India, which prides itself as never harbouring imperialist ambitions, seems to have turned upon its own people.

Maoist guerrillas come with their own frequently compelling worldview, one that is not always easy to challenge in secular terms. The tribespeople of Chhatisgarh thus needed to be divided into separate entities with an instilled notion that the two sides thus formed harboured mutually hostile interests. Calling the Maoists Pakistanis seems to do for the region what the description of Gujarat’s Muslims as “children of Mian Musharraf” had done for Narendra Modi.

However, the malaise no longer exists merely as a divisive strategy to keep the normal troublemakers busy with a self-perpetuating digression. The scourge presented itself most palpably in a new and worrying avatar in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack, when the nation’s “thinking classes” turned into a mob, calling variously for the destruction of Pakistan and also for the surrender of India’s parliament to the military. They saw democracy as weak-kneed and prone to indecisiveness, which was a hindrance to fighting the menace of terror.

A perspective given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a meeting with Gen Pervez Musharraf in Havana would have been handy. He had said that Pakistan was now (by its own suicidal policies) as much a victim of terrorism as India was. There were no takers for that view in Mumbai. TV channels that thrive on a middle class viewership are given to routinely spewing hatred of Pakistan. There it goes, it’s about to fall. That’s the kind of glee that comes with every terror attack that takes place across the border.

Arrogance brings its own quandary though. The argument for not starting talks with Pakistan until it stops terrorism against India has proved to be a double-edged sword. If Pakistan is fomenting terrorism in India, then an American travel advisory to its citizens to take evasive action against lurking attackers in the country should not be ignored. However, Indian officials believe that the US embassy advice had overstated the fears. They insist that India is as safe as any country for tourists to feel comfortable to visit. Clearly both opinions can’t be right. Something’s got to give. And hopefully it’s the prejudice.